Today, January 27, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. In contrast with Yom Hashoah, commemorated on the 27th day of the month of Nisan to recall the horrors targeting Jews specifically, Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the mosaic of victims whose fate was sealed by Nazism.
Remembrance takes many forms. As Anna Ornstein, a holocaust survivor born in Hungary in 1927 notes in the poignant film above: “There are many other ways in which the memory of this event will become transformed. The same way as every other important historical event. Some will be in archives. Some will be fictionalized. Some will be made into films, into plays. We will die, and our voices will die. But the art and the books will survive.”
Among the surviving art and books about the Holocaust, few are more widely known than those authored by Primo Levi. In my personal effort to delve deeper into the lessons of the Holocaust, I’m revisiting his Complete Works edited by Ann Goldstein.
In her introduction to these volumes, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison writes: “The Complete Works of Primo Levi is far more than a welcome opportunity to reevaluate and reexamine historical and contemporary plagues of systematic necrology; it becomes a brilliant deconstruction of malign forces. The triumph of human identity and worth over the pathology of human destruction glows virtually everywhere in Levi’s writing. For a number of reasons his works are singular amid the wealth of Holocaust literature.”
Among the many who have been informed by Levi’s works is Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., an environmental scientist who wrote a stirring tribute to his father’s experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Dr. Hershkowitz will be participating in an ecumenical event this afternoon at 3:00 at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture which will be available through live streaming.
Perhaps the best way to encapsulate the significance of today is contained in the introduction to a research article in Science Advances recently shared with me by a close friend:
“The Holocaust, the Nazi-German annihilation of European Jewry during World War II (1939–1945), is unarguably one of the most destructive and murderous events in the history of human civilization. However, over the last 70 years, genocides and mass killing events have continued to occur and they are not diminishing in frequency. Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, Burundi, Syria, and Myanmar have all experienced large-scale murder operations in the last 25 years, some of which may have been preventable. Developing a deeper understanding of genocides and mass killing events, including their causes, common characteristics, predictability, and mitigation, is thus considered by some as ‘the most important goal of social science’. In this respect, lessons learned from the Holocaust continue to play a vital role, and the topic remains as timely as ever.”